2018 is on the way...are you ready?

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2018 is less than a month away. Are you ready as a pastor, a staff, or as a church? In less than 24 hours, you can put together a plan for success and set high expectations for yourself and the people around you! Taking a little time to build a framework for the way you will use your time can lead to big returns and rewards as a leader. Failing to develop a plan is the fastest path to failure! . Don't get caught without a plan! 

The first thing that you need to decide on is the direction you want to take? What story do you want to tell with your life? What story do you want to tell with your staff? What story do you want to tell through your church? There are 4 seasons in every year. Similarly, there will busy seasons and seasons of rest. Be realistic, reasonable, and set yourself up for success. Maybe you need more balance in your personal life.

Perhaps you need to get more commitment out of your team in 2018. Maybe you need to decide if you want to go deep or wide as a church in 2018. Every year is different. Try selecting a word or phrase that will represent your year as a whole and keep it in mind as you schedule. 

Failing to develop a plan is the fastest path to failure!
— The Ministry Mechanics

Personal Calendar

There are 5 things that a personal calendar must include: Time off (quarterly), Rest, family, and vision-casting, and personal growth (weekly). These 5 items will keep your personal calendar on track and focused on the things that really matter. 

Here is an example of my personal weekly calendar I used when I was a lead pastor:
Church 7am-2pm (preparation, services, connection)
Family 2pm- (lunch, fun, rest)
Office 8am-5pm (breakdown the weekend services, review the message, collect stories of life change, start working on next weeks message, follow-up on connection cards, write notes to first-time guests)
Family 5pm-9pm (dinner, relax)
Emails/Writing?Reading 9pm-
Office 8am-5pm (Team Meeting, communicate direction of the weekend and week, follow up on stories/issues from the weekend, pray as a team, enjoy lunch together, finish the message outline, available for any staff member to share concerns, issues, or get clarification)
Small Group/Family 5pm-9pm
Office 8am-11am (Vision-casting, think about the future, dream about the possibilities for my life and our church)
Lunch 11am-12:30 (Usually with a leader or a team member) 
Office 12:30-5pm (Finalize the bulk of the message and send it to the creative teams/finalize slides and listening guides/bulletins)
Leadership Meeting/Dinner 5pm-8pm (Not every week, but most)
Office 8am-5pm (Finalize preparation for the weekend, work on future projects, line up team members to knock out specific tasks, verify that we are ready to execute Sunday morning services, run through the service order to double check direction)
Family 5pm-9pm (This is my version of Friday night)
Off All Day (Usually a date day with my wife, play golf, relax and recharge)
Off 8am-4pm
Church 4pm-7pm (Church services or checking the building to make sure we're ready for Sunday services)
Family 7pm-10pm

2 or 3 weekends a year I like to be away from the church. It allows me to give away leadership and get people used to seeing someone other than me. I also like to take 2 full weeks of vacation all together. The first week is about clearing my mind and the second week is about pure relaxation. Tell your team that you're unreachable and try to completely unplug from your daily grind. You don't need a full-time staff to make this happen. Start training volunteers to jump in and hire The Ministry Mechanics to fill in while you're away!

Church Schedule

There are 5 things a ministry calendar must include: invite weekends, holidays/events, sermon series, rest, and spiritual mile-markers. These 5 items propel your church forward and provide purpose for every single weekend/event throughout the year. We're also big fans of intentional invite weekends. Every 6 weeks, or so, create an opportunity with something a little extra for people to have a reason to be there or invite a friend to church. 

Here is an sample of our what our church calendar from January 1 to December31 would've looked like when I was a lead pastor. 

November/December (Previous Year):
This is the optimal time to finalize the calendar the the next year as a team. Maybe getting out of the office and putting everything on a wall/whiteboard/timeline can help bring some clarity to the calendar.
Starting the year off on the right foot and challenging your church to start a reading plan, pick a word for their year that inspires them to stay connected to God, and offering an opportunities for people to get plugged in is critical. The new year really does offer a reset for many people within your church. People start coming back to church in a big way that second week of the new year. Create an opportunity for people to invite their friends with a sermon series that is easily applicable to their everyday lives. MLK Day is in January, so it might be a good time to recognize diversity in your church. Wrap up with a year-in-review of all that God did. Share key metrics and celebrate as a church. This is also time to start getting financial statements ready to go out to the church. Maybe consider creating a year-in-review video and printed piece that shares key stats and stories of how God moved at the church. 
Communion is something that we would do once a quarter. February is a great time to do it as it fills a void and is a great time to give it some focus and attention. Easter is just around the corner, take time as a team to pick a theme and start prep work on creating a powerful experience. Use this time to start recruiting volunteers for additional services. February is also a great time to launch a semester of Small Groups. You can start promoting after MLK Day and launch in February. I'd usually do a sermon series that builds some depth. Perhaps a book study or a study of various Biblical characters. Don't forget to create an invite moment in February. Maybe it's time to switch up the music for a weekend and do an acoustic set. Or, maybe its time to invite a guest speaker and do a stand alone weekend about a particular topic that really hits home in your community. Make sure to put out some invite cards with service times that make it easy to invite a friend. Don't forget to capitalize on Super Bowl Sunday! Find a fun way to incorporate football into the weekend services. 
Now Easter is really just around the corner. It's time to share the theme and get people excited about inviting their friends. What are you going to do to keep people focused on inviting their friends? Maybe have your people write down the names of 5 people they will be actively praying for that they will consider inviting to church on Easter weekend! Are you planning to advertise? You'll want to get those ads placed early. Also, get your printing done early so there isn't a rush. Pray over those names as a church and make a big pitch for friends to join in on the fun. This is a good time for a vision and values series. It's a good chance to prepare hearts for the mission that is ahead as a church. This might be a good time to do a new members class and get people involved and engaged in making your church their home. March is a good time to take some time off! Get some rest before the craziness of Easter. 
Easter is here. It's time for our Super Bowl! Time to run those ads and get people talking about your church. Having some really nice social media graphics/invites/videos will help drive people to your social media and your website. Speaking of your website, take some time and go through it and make sure all the links work, the service times are correct, and it's easy to find your church building. After you have a big weekend at Easter, celebrate as a team and do something fun to build friendships. Now that you've most likely seen some folks give their life to the Lord, schedule a baptism weekend. Do it up big! Encourage everyone to invite their family to see them getting baptized. Have a new sermon series to promote coming out of Easter and have the details on a printed card for people to invite friends and to remind them of what is coming up next!
Summer is just around the corner. This is the time to start thinking about vacation schedules and plans. How will you handle absences in the kids ministry and on your staff? When are you going to get away? It's time for communion again. Maybe try doing communion in a different part of the service or change up the way you distribute the elements. Don't settle into a routine. With summer coming up, maybe give some stage time to the student ministry to help them promote and get people excited about summer events. If you celebrate graduations, this is a perfect time to do it. Mother's Day is in May, so that's a great time to honor moms in your church. It also provides a bump in attendance. Shoot a sentimental video with kids in your church sharing about how much their mom means to them! Also, you can do Baby Dedication around this time of the year. 
Summer is here! What are you going to do to avoid the summer slump? Are you going to do an "At The Movies" type series? Now is the time to start prep on writing those messages and getting ready to record ahead of time. Hype this series big time! Don't take a break. Keep the heat on! Are you going to be out of town for a couple weeks? Now is the time to line up the guest speakers you are going to use. If you are planning to use volunteers, do a training session with them and practice with them. Your feedback will go a long way to helping them be successful! For the sermon series, you might consider doing something lighthearted and family-friendly to take some pressure off your kids volunteers one weekend. Do you do VBS? If so, preparations should be in full swing. Also, Father's Day is in June. Maybe a "Man Series" or "Man Sermon" is in order for this month. 
It's time for your summer series or VBS! Challenge your people to invite their friends in a big way! Serve popcorn and drinks and snacks during the series. Do something out of the norm to shake things up and get people excited. Summer is a great time to do something creative and different to drive attendance. Maybe it's a good time to remind people of all the ways they can give besides when the bucket passes in the aisles. Online giving, automated giving, text-to-give, and kiosks are a great way to offer some additional giving options during the summer so giving doesn't fall off completely. Don't forget 4th of July! Maybe a church in the park and grilling out would be a fun way to get everyone together!
It's almost time for school to fire back up. You can expect a huge bump in attendance in September. What are you doing to get ready for that surge? August is a great time to celebrate your volunteers and share with them what's new and exciting at your church. Get them pumped up for the fall. Communion time again. Find a weekend that makes sense. Also, baptism is a good idea since it's warm and you've probably had some students/kids give their lives to Jesus in the last couple of months. Get with your leaders and find out who needs to take the next step. 
Now school is back in session and people are starting to get back in their routines. This is a good time to do a series on parenting, or marriage, or finances.  This is the time to make another push for people to start serving and possibly do another new members event. It's also a great time to take a weekend off and experience church like a first-time visitor. Examine the process from the parking lot to the seats and back. Are there any deficiencies? Might be time to tweak your processes in time for an influx of new visitors! Football is back in September. Maybe do a favorite jersey weekend and keep it casual. It's a good chance to encourage people to invite a friend. 
It's time to start getting your Christmas plan together. What is your theme going to be? Do you do a production, living nativity, or choir special? Get all that planning done now! If you aren't doing anything special for Christmas, maybe this is the year to try something new. It doesn't have to be major, just find a new way to connect with your community. Are there Christmas parades? Get involved. Also, Halloween is a great time to connect with the community. Create some really cool cards that people can hand out with high-quality candy in your neighborhoods. Maybe it's time to do a sermon series on prayer or spiritual disciplines. Keep balancing out your preaching to include a variety of concepts on Christian living and throughout scripture. Don't forget to take a weekend off in the fall! 
Why not take some time in the fall to do a big community wide serving initiative. Maybe even move church out of the building one weekend and just serve in your city. Thanksgiving is a great time of year to do a serving/community outreach project. Maybe an entire sermon series on thankfulness is in order for November. Get all that printing done for Christmas! Don't forget to start building the calendar for the next year in November!
Time to execute that Christmas plan! Are you advertising in the community? Are you getting involved? A special sermon series for December that really captures the essence of Christmas is important. People really love to celebrate the holidays and church needs to be a big part of those memories! Take a weekend off to be with your family! What's the holiday schedule like for your staff? Have you communicated that to them? Are you doing a Christmas Party with the staff? Give them plenty of notice and provide a sitter at the church for all the staff kids! Find a way for your church to give generously to folks in need at Christmas. It's a great time to take up a special offering for a particular project or need in your church!

So there you have it. That's a starting point for building your personal and ministry calendar. This won't include everything, but it will hopefully provide some inspiration to take the first step and maximize your ministry year! We have a limited amount of time and we need to make the most of it to spend time with God, our family, and to make an impact on our communities for Jesus!

chris hughes